While today Percy Bysshe Shelley is generally recognized as one of the shining lights of English poetry, during his own lifetime and for a generation after his death he was not so widely regarded. Most of this lack of appreciation was due to critics disliking his political and philosophical writings.
For early critics, his less “complicated” poems like “Ozymadias” alone were acknowledged and praised. His “rediscovery” at the end of the 19th Century and the end of the Victorian Period by the Pre-Raphaelites reinvigorated poetry. His influence on Yeats is, of course, significant.
“Ozymandias” is a staple of English 101 classes. In form and content, it is a perfect poem – one easily memorized and gratefully recited. Its many ironic levels are easy to see, and strike a familiar and modern chord.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.